KOKOMO, Ind. —A gaping hole in the ground, and piles of rock and rubble, were all that remained of the remote section of mountain in the Philippines. The land, which formerly supported nearby villagers, stands ruined, bulldozed and stripped of its trees.
Since August, Ligaya McGovern has witnessed the results of corporate mining in her native country, talked to the people impacted, and prepared to tell their stories to the world.
“I’m very thankful, and I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to be with people who are struggling for social justice, for the right to their ancestral lands, and out of concern for their environment,” said McGovern.
A professor of sociology at Indiana University Kokomo, she’s using her knowledge and skills to learn about the effects of corporate mining on indigenous people, with a fellowship from the Fulbright Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.
The fellowship allowed her the freedom to research her passions of sustainability and social justice, particularly for marginalized people, during the fall 2017 semester. With assistance from The National Alliance of Indigenous People in the Philippines (KATRIBU), her host organization, she’s visited mining sites and nearby villages, interviewing those impacted by the operations.
“I felt like crying when I saw the mountains, and they tell me the forest is now gone,” she said. “They were subsistence farmers, and what they produced from the land was enough to support themselves and their families. That’s all gone now. They tell me, ‘I hope you can make our stories known to the rest of the world.’”
While these operations take away from their economic well-being, McGovern said more importantly, it takes away from their cultural identity.
“Ancestral land for them is life,” she said. “When they lose their land, they lose their culture, they lose their livelihood. It’s not sustainable development, and these people’s human rights are violated. A sustainable society must be founded on a human rights basis.”
The mining companies export the gold, nickel, and other minerals extracted to their own countries, leaving little or no economic benefit to those in the Philippines, McGovern noted.
In the future, she plans to write and publish a book from her research, but currently, she’s working on a shorter-term project — producing a 25 to 30-page booklet analyzing the impact of corporate mining on human rights and the environment. It will be published in English and the local languages, for resistance groups to use in an educational and informational campaign.
She’s also completed a proposal to start an institute for advanced studies of issues in the Philippines, to connect not-for-profit agencies working to help the country’s people, and to educate those outside the country.
“They asked me how I would be useful to their local organizations,” McGovern said. “They say, ‘So many researchers come here, and we never hear from them anymore.’ I am glad to leave behind something of value for them, and to continue this relationship. I feel this is not just research for me to promote my career, it is part of my life now.”
When she returns to campus in January, she also will share these stories with her IU Kokomo students.
“We teach not only by being in the classroom, but by doing, by witnessing,” she said. “We have to see the world in a much more integrated way. We all share one humanity. There are structures we have to be critical of, and not afraid to question. If we cannot give this vision to our students, we are not really giving them anything.”
McGovern is one of 12 IU faculty members on five campuses awarded fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. They are among 1,200 U.S. citizens selected for the grants, which have sent more than 360,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists abroad.
This year’s Fulbright fellows continue a long line of distinguished IU scholars who not only engage in cutting-edge research in their disciplines,” said David Zaret, IU vice president for international affairs. “They also become ambassadors for Indiana University, enhancing our linkages around the world. We honor their efforts and achievements.”
The Fulbright Program, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, was created to build relations between the U.S. and other countries to find solutions to global challenges and shared international concerns. Over 160 countries participate in the program.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.